Tag Archives: salamba sarvangasana

Chatuse Padasana: four feet firmly on the foundation

Chatuse Padasana, or four footed pose, has two distinct functions. First it is a universally  accessible and easy-to-do backbend. You will get all the backbend benefits without all the fear and mental roadblocks you’ll find in other back bending asanas. But the second function and the real magic of this pose is that it introduces the proper shoulder actions in Salmaba Sarvangasana (supported all body pose, or shoulder stand).  It also begins to introduce the Jalandara Bandha sternum-to-chin action that will be found in more complex poses later. I teach this to all of my basic students to get them to work towards shoulder stand.

First, you will need a sticky mat and a strap:

Chatuse padasana 1

Next, roll the spine flat onto the floor using the same instructions from my Savasana post. Please note the head is on the slippery floor and the shoulders are on the sticky mat. This is deliberate.

Chatuse padasana 2

Raise the feet and place the strap over the front of the shins.

Chatuse padasana 3

Then place the feet back on the floor with the heels right in front of the buttock bones with the toes pointed slightly inward.

Chatuse padasana 4

For those with knee issues, move the feet further away from the buttocks.

Chatuse padasana 5

Keeping the feet in place, lift the hips up slightly

Chatuse padasana 6

Shift the weight to the left side, and pull firmly on the right strap. Then externally rotate the right upper arm toward the floor. Notice how my chest puffs up when I do this. Then repeat on the other side. This is the important shoulder work I referred to earlier.

Chatuse padasana 8

Now you are ready for launch. The “four feet” are the upper arms and feet creating a platform to blast the hips into space. Inhale, then push shins toward the armpits and lift up the hips toward the ceiling. Try to move both sides of the body up symmetrically, like an elevator going up a floor.  Also move the sternum toward the chin. Pull firmly on the straps. Hold for a few breaths (and don’t hold your breath)!

Chatuse padasana 9

Exhale and lower the buttocks back to the floor. Repeat several times. The more you do, the better your mood will get! Endorphins are released in backbends creating a euphoria in the mind of the practitioner. Just don’t get too caught up in it.

Chatuse padasana 10

It is also advisable to do a spine neutralizing pose like a wide downward dog after backbends to de-contract the back muscles. For a back bending sequences, see the “yoga sequences” button on my blog menu.

wide ams

 

Have a wonderful practice!

 

Why Sirsasana is done before Sarvangasana in the Iyengar system

Iyengar nirlamba sirsasana

My good friend and fellow blogger Irish Ashtangi brought up an excellent question: is headstand (Salamba Sirsasana) done before or after shoulder stand (Salmaba Sarvangasana)? As this question is a bit more complex than it seems, I am dedicating a blog entry address the question.

First full disclosure. I practiced Ashtanga for a brief period of six months should not be considered anywhere near an expert authority on the Asthanga system. I have experienced the First Series a few score times so at least I have some reference point to write from.

That being said, I later became certified in the Iyengar system. In my training, I was taught that Salmba Sirsasana (supported head pose) is unequivocally sequenced before Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported All Limbs of the Body pose, or shoulder stand).

First, we have to view these two asanas in terms of temperature. Salamba Sirsasana (I’ll refer to it as headstand from here to simplify) is a “heating” pose as it stimulates the nervous system. Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) is a “cooling” pose which pacifies the nervous system. Here are Guruji’s words on the subject from Light On Yoga:

Sirsasana and its cycle should always be followed by Sarvangasana and its cycle. It has been observed that people who devote themselves to Sirsasana alone without doing the Sarvangasana poses are apt to lose their temper over trifling things and become irritated quickly. (Light On Yoga page 189)

If you consider the eight limbs in logical progression, they go from the external to the internal. From this perspective, it makes sense to a practice a less stimulating pose like Sarvangasana near the end of  the practice to prepare for Savasana, then Pranayama to experience Pratyahara.

In defense of the Ashtanga system, which has Sarvangasana practiced before Sirsasana, the poses are only held for a short period of time compared to the Iyengar system. In the Iyengar system, one builds time in Sirsasana to 10 plus minutes and Sarvangasana a bit longer. From my brief practice of Asthanga, I recall the poses being held for a few breaths lasting no longer than 2 minutes. Please correct me if I am wrong as I am not an authority of the Asthanga/Jois system.

In my training, we are instructed to teach beginners Salamba Sarvangasna before we teach them Salamba Sirsasana. This is because students learn the required movements of the shoulders and the chest in Salamba Sarvangasna that they will take to Salamba Sirsasana when it is later introduced.

One last note about the sequences in the back of Light On Yoga. Most all of them start with the first pose being Salmaba Sirsasana. This has gradually changed in his later teachings, but Sirsasana still tends to show up early in contemporary Iyengar sequences. Also, inversions are more prevalent in an evening practice than a morning one. There are always exceptions to the rule depending on which “effect” you want from the practice. Thank you Irish Ashtangi for asking this question. He is an ardent practitioner and has a very inspiring blog chronicling his yogic journey.

guruji pali II

As a commemorative note, today marks the 13th day after Iyengar’s passing. The 13th day after death is considered an auspicious time. In your practice today, please keep Iyengar in your thoughts.

The King of Asanas

King of Asana

In this post I will demonstrate a safe way to practice Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Head pose, or headstand). It is called the “king of asanas” for various reasons. It is mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pratipika as an asana that will cure diseases as the practitioner builds time in the pose. Before you scoff at such claims, realize that Guruji practiced this pose well into his 90s.

First clear the room.

Sirsasana A

The setup is a folded sticky mat with the folded edge toward the wall and a folded blanket with a the folded edge toward the wall.

Sirsasana C

Now stand in Tadasana to learn the “base”

tadasana

Interlace the fingers all the way to the webbing so they are facing straight across. this is the correct hand position.

Sirsasana D

 

Now find the tops of your ears with your index finger

Sirsasana F

 

And trace it all the way to the top. This is the top of your head where you will be balancing. Make a finger nail indent so you know what part of the head to place on the ground.

Sirsasna G

Next, take your folded hands behind the skull and move your elbows in shoulder level. This is much more narrow than you think.

Sirsasana H

Now take this knowledge to the props. Kneel down and place folded fingers at wall on props and bring your elbows well in to be shoulder width.

Sirsanasa I

Place the head in cupped shaped fingers and the finger nail indent spot directly on the floor.

Sirsasna J

Tuck toes under and press thighs up toward ceiling like Downward facing dog pose.

Sirsanasa K

Walk in, bend knees and raise one leg high in the air.

Sirsasana M

Hop up and quickly straighten legs.

Sirsasana N

Press forearms down mightily, don’t let the shoulders shrug.

Sirsasana N1

For balance take one toe mound off wall and press up. Repeat feet.

Sirsasana Q

Sirsasan R

 

Then flex heels.

Sirsasana S

Then both toe mounds up and tailbone forward at the same time. You are in the classic pose now.

Sirsasana T

 

To safely come down land both heels at wall again.

Sirsasna P

Bend knees.

Sirsasana O

Come down one leg at at time.

Sirsasana M

Turn around and do adho mukha virasana with cupped shaped fingers to release the neck.

Sirsasana V

At first don’t hold for long. Just learn how to safely enter and exit the pose. You can only go up ONCE if you have not been practicing this pose for less than a year. See Inversions and Eye Problems for explanations.

That being said. Don’t attempt if you have neck problems, high blood pressure, glaucoma, or are menstruating.

10-Salamba-Sarvangasana

Also Salamba Sarvangasana must be done after this pose to calm the nervous system. See Light on Yoga for ill effects of solely doing Salamba Sirsasana without Salmaba Sarvangasana.

Inversions are a hallmark of Iyengar yoga practice and will bring many wondrous effects to your body’s many systems with regular practice.

 

Shoulder Stand Done Right

Image

Salamba Sarvangasana (supported all body pose) or popularly known as shoulder stand is considered the “mother” of asanas. It has therapeutic benefit for every system in your body. That’s why it’s probably called “all body pose.”

If done incorrectly. it may cause damage to the cervical spine. I will attempt in a series of picture to illustrate the correct approach to this pose.

First the setup: you will need 4 blankets, a chair, a sticky mat, and a block. See below for the visual:

Image

Correct shoulder stand/halasana setup for beginners

On a sticky mat laid out flat, put the blankets at one end with the smooth edges facing the chair. Fold the sticky mat tail 2/3 over the blankets as seen in photo. Make sure the edges of the blankets are in one straight vertical plane. If you have the fringes out it will create unevenness in the base:

photo-14

Correct edges

photo-13

Incorrect edges

Lay on your back on top of the blankets and have your shoulder tops  1 to 1.5 inches (3-4 cm) from the edge of the blankets. 

Reach back and hold the bottom part of the legs of the chair, push the chair back until your arms are straight.

From this point NEVER TURN YOUR HEAD as you can damage the C7 part of your spine.

Pushing down with the elbows, swing your legs overhead until the feet reach the chair.

SS halasana

This is called Halasana (plow pose). Push the thighs up toward the ceiling until the legs are taut.

From here, straighten your arms behind you and hook your thumbs with the fingers pointed toward the ceiling, roll to the right side and tuck your left shoulder underneath. Then repeat right side. Do a few times until the skin of the shoulder is well underneath.

Support the back with the hands with the palm touching the flesh of the back (not cloth) and fingers facing toward the ceiling.

Keeping taut legs, take one leg up at a time until the ankles knees, hips and deltoids are in one vertical plane.

10-Salamba-Sarvangasana

At first just practice getting in and holding for one minute. Eventually you build your time up to five minutes.

To come out, KEEP YOUR LEGS TAUT, as you lower one leg down the chair at a time. If you allow the legs to go limp you will crash your feet on the chair. Then reach your hands to the chair, bend your knees and roll down.

Here is why you need blankets in this pose. This strap represents the angle of your spine with blankets. Notice there is gentle, gradual plane that is minimally weight bearing.photo-11

Now, here is your spine’s angle without blankets:SS 90

And then your pose will look like this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 3.10.32 PM

OUCH!!

Banana shaped!!

Or worse:

ss sans blanket

90 degree angle of the neck is bad news

You should not do this pose if you are menstruating (or any other pose where the pelvis is elevated). In ayurveda, which is the sister science to yoga, it is advised that one should not interrupt the direction of drainage from the body.

It would be highly advisable to find an Iyengar certified yoga teacher to instruct you to do this pose initially, than use this blog entry as a reminder.